The Chicago community, reeling from the tragic death of Ayala Shulman, a”h, an eighteen year-old young girl who was struck by a car on Thursday, July 4, while in South Haven, Michigan with her family, was helped through the mourning process by Chai Lifeline’s Bellows Crisis Intervention Program – a nationwide program, that actually began in Chicago.
In addition to the Bellows Crisis Intervention Program, the Divine Providence had it that a case manager from Chai Lifeline’s New Jersey office, Sarita Kohn, was in South Haven, Michigan at the time of the tragedy. She immediately stepped in, and together with Rabbi Klar, MSW, associate director of Project Chai, was in contact with the family. Together, they were an immediate source of comfort to the Shulman family along with helping the families in the bungalow colony near the accident as they explained, in an age appropriate manner, the heartbreaking news to their children.
As calls began to come to the Chai Lifeline offices for help, Zahava Farbman, LMSW, associate director of crisis and trauma intervention and bereavement services at Chai Lifeline, came to Chicago on July 11 and met with not only the Shulman family and community members, but also friends of Ayala’s and friends of her sisters.
Community members, friends, and family were comforted by the insights and experience of grief counselor Mrs. Farbman.
After visiting the Shulman home and meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Ari Shulman, Mrs. Farbman spent time with the 8th graders and 10th graders who are friends with two of Ayala’s younger sisters, as well as 30 of Ayala’s friends, with several calling in via conference call. Finally, Mrs. Farbman gave a 1 hour presentation to 50 women at the home of Mrs. Elana Davis.
“There is no right or wrong way to respond to a tragedy like this. An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is totally normal – the famous psychologist Victor Frankel said this. I like that quote. We know G-d loves us and loves Ayala, a”h, and the Shulman family. But it is upsetting and painful,” she said.
The evening at Mrs. Elana Davis’ home was for women who have had to cope with their own sorrow and shock while helping their children through the crisis. Mrs. Farbman detailed how grief impacts children at each developmental stage and briefed parents on the different ways that children express their emotions. She normalized and validated the wide range of possible responses to the tragedy.
“Kids will say to me, ‘But we davened, we prayed. What happened to our prayers?’ That is hard for kids to grapple with,” Mrs. Farbman explained.
“The 12th grade girls said it is very hard to see our parents be sad and scared. So I want to tell you, the mothers of these girls, keep lines of communication open. You can tell your children ‘Even if you think it will upset me, we will get through it together,’” Mrs. Farbman told the group.
Mrs. Farbman also mentioned that the Shulman’s wanted these meetings with Ayala’s and her sisters’ friends in their house. “I have done this 100’s of times, and do you realize what is happening here?” Mrs. Farbman remarked, “The Shulman’s want this in their house. I have never seen this. They are sitting shiva, their own personal mourning, and they are taking time from their pain to let these girls know that they are always welcome in the home, that the girls will always be Ayala’s friends. I am blown away by their sensitivity.”
Project CHAI was established by Chai Lifeline in 2000 to help children, families, and communities come together following untimely death or trauma. For more information or assistance, contact Zahava Farbman, 212 699-6633, email firstname.lastname@example.org or Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Klar, 917 710-7857, email@example.com.
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